A while back, I started writing pieces that reflect on the sacredness of the things we need to live. My list of fundamental elements started to form in 3rd grade, when we learned about food, shelter, air, and water as essential needs for living things. At the time, I hadn’t developed the belief that we could consider them sacred. That came much later. I did, however, feel like the list was lacking. I spent a lot of time thinking about the things needed for life, and I began to build on the list I was taught.
My earliest additions were education and healthcare. It seems to me that all life forms learn. We have schools, but other species have their own methods of passing on information. Healthcare affords us the ability to weather sickness, injury, and disease that might have otherwise proven to be life threatening.
More recently, reflecting on the Pathways in Compassion ministry here at St. John, I added connection to this list. The connection of community has benefits both tangible and intangible. Further, life, including and beyond humanity, needs connections to live - as illustrated in the web of life.
Listening to the radio reporting on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza on my way to the church this morning, I found myself thinking about hope. Does hope deserve a spot on my list of sacred elements of life?
Hope sustains. When things feel dreary, hope can see us through. Difficult situations do not feel insurmountable when we have hope. When our hope is strained, the challenges we face become burdensome. This can have disastrous effects, leading people so far as to lose the will to live.
Admittedly, hope is probably harder to determine in other species, but I don’t think hope is a purely human feeling. I see hope in my dog’s eyes as he polices the kitchen when we are cooking. I can’t say if plants might have some version of hope, but I do know that they send chemical signals with their roots that can communicate warning or needs. Both messages of warning and needs suggest some hope that the warning be heeded, the need be met. So maybe plants can hope too.
In a way, hope is an infinite resource. But, just as there are enough of all the resources we need, sometimes we cannot access them. Sometimes we can feel that all hope is lost. I’ve certainly had times in my life where I struggled to find hope. In those times, we may find ourselves not choosing life in big and small ways. Perhaps we eat, but not anything with significant nutritional value. We may begin to neglect our connections. As we feel devoid of hope, we can start to feel devoid of life.
So, maybe we need hope to live?
That idea, that hope is fundamentally needed to live, leads to some questions. How do we protect and maintain hope? How do we create hope? How do we help others to find or not lose hope? How do we share hope?
I’m still mulling over these questions. I invite you to spend some time with them as well. If you care to share your thoughts, please drop them in the comments below (or get in touch though whatever medium you find most comfortable).
“In the depths of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow, your heart dreams of spring. Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.” – Kahlil Gibran